I never saw a movie in a theater until I was 14 years old. My parents even had a rule that rated R movies would not be shown in our home. My sisters and I were content for a long time with our collection of Disney movies like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and would watch and re-watch movies like Driving Miss Daisy and Mary Poppins. We didn’t know any better and frankly, we found other things to do.
We weren’t familiar with the idea of taking a family trip to see a movie, and no one else we knew did that sort of thing. Our world was very small. My parents had no friends and our circle consisted of the members of our small Baptist church and no one else. My dad never saw anyone from work outside of work, and my mom never formed friendships with anyone in the “real world,” let alone church. I didn’t know any differently. Movies were VHS tapes that came from one of the narrow shelves in the hall closet or were carefully chosen from the BlockBuster store two streets over. We either watched movies when we couldn’t think of anything else to play or pretend (which was rare) or we’d watch a rental as a family, my mom and dad sitting on the couch behind us as we three girls fought over space on the two-person wide carpet laid over the tile floor.
The assortment of movie rentals was bland, although I didn’t think so at the time. Part of the fun was disbursing the five-person family in the store and roaming the aisles to look at the cover art and read the selections when something caught my eye. These rentals were something to watch with the family while I inevitably ate fat free icecream spooned into blue plastic bowls. Movie watching was neutral, relaxing, non-fighting time. It was usually the last thing we did before bed on a Friday or Saturday night.
The reason we didn’t see movies in the movie theater are hard to explain to those that have not grown up independent, fundamental, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching, hymn-singing, Gospel-proclaiming Baptists. The basic idea is that if you have been born again by accepting Christ’s work in your behalf on the cross, then you should carry yourself differently and with a higher moral standard than others, so that others might notice a difference and perhaps ask what makes you tick. Then you get your rare chance to share the work of Christ. Besides the work of Christ, I personally think the rest of it, (what Baptists and many born-again Christians call your public “testimony”) is a bunch of closed-minded, high-minded crap. People don’t care who you know or how much you know until they see how much you care. Most of the time, people are busy staying engaged with family and careers and hobbies and aren’t scouring their horizon for a moral code in everything that would cause them to ask why you are so… weird.
So why no movie theaters for strict Baptists? Here is why: Someone you might know could potentially be attending that very same theater at a given time and run into you and not know that you had chosen the least morally deficient movie than the other ones offered. They might question your moral judgement. That. Is. It. That is the reasoning. Yep. That’s it. I remember a very sweet girl in my Sunday school class asking our youth pastor, “Well isn’t going into a video rental store the same thing? How does someone know you’re not renting a rated R or X film since you’re there?” What did our youth pastor do? Instead of spinning on his heels from the force of logic being thrown at him, he only rented movies from the grocery store after that. As the Baptists would say… “Good Lord.”
So what was my first movie in a theater? Disclosure. The panty-ripping, Demi-Moore-seduces-Michael-Douglas one. Yep. I was fourteen years old. I told my mom that I was the only one in my ninth grade class who had never been in a movie theater and that no one even believed me. She mercifully mellowed out long enough to let me see my first. I told her I was going to see Richie Rich. With Macaulay Culkin in it. I can still remember the poster image of him sitting indian style on a pile of money, surrounded with even more bills. Disclosure was playing behind the next door. Sara, the girl I went with, was a gutsy veteran with far more freedom allowed her than I. She spontaneously suggested we see it, and in the spirit of girls on the verge of young-woman hood and curious as hell, we went right through those doors. Besides the long hallways with numbered signs which I’d never seen before, I was less fascinated with the experience than with the movie and that we had snuck into. Maybe I was pulsing with a little autonomy for once, but I really liked the movie.
After that, I saw probably five more movies in theaters by the time I graduated from high school. To this day, my family has only gone to the movies together one time. I don’t know what possessed my dad, but once we were all in college, he got the idea that we should all go see Planet of the Apes together, including my sister’s then-fiancee. I hated it.
Erin, my older sister and I have seen two movies together. Braveheart happened when my mom let her drive with me alone in the car, and we immediately bought copies of the soundtrack. And our second movie was years later when she was nine months pregnant with her second. The movie was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and we were in Bangkok, Thailand. The king’s anthem played before the movie, and we stood with everyone else in the theater and listened to the moving sounds. Her son could feel the rumbling and kicked her the whole time. I’m not even sure what movies we would have been seeing, had we seen movies together growing up. We missed almost all of them. I’ll be thirty this year, and even though I’ve ridden the ride at MGM Studios, I still haven’t seen Back to the Future.
In college, I slowly began to make up for almost two decades of missing popular culture. I knew only two actors. I knew Richard Gere and Julia Roberts because I’d seen Pretty Woman so many times. I got made fun of because I didn’t even know who Sandra Bullock was. How would I? It wasn’t until I dated that I saw movies regularly and I even forgot how strange and late my indoctrination was.
That was until recently.These are the years that most of my adult friends have children that they can and do take to movies somewhat regularly. My best friend’s daughter seems exposed to almost the entire range of current kid movies. Going to movies together seems like just a regular part of the father-daughter relationship to them. I suppose that while other children my age went to the movies, I was going to hear the symphony orchestra my dad always bought season tickets to for the family. Or we were sitting at home lined up with our pillows to watch the VHS movie we rented.
I never found danger in the movie theater though. The movie theater was a mystical place that every one else went to, just as strip clubs were places where women let men stick dollar bills in their panties and finger them while they were down there. Just like Hooters was a place where sluts and whores worked and men went to whistle and ogle while they ate hamburgers. Just like bars or anywhere that played rock music were dark places with bad people that smoked cigarettes and cursed. Just like the prom I never went to because we weren’t permitted to date or dance. It was like the rock concert I’d never been to. And it ended up a surprisingly benign place. A building smelling of popcorn–no demons or immorality in sight. I suppose that’s because I have no memories, like my best friend does. He’s got childhood memories associated with every local theater or former theater location around town. I find it fascinating, like I missed everything and nothing. I’m unchanged by the formerly-though-to-be-evil, without emotional connection or battery of memories, the same way I feel after entering and exiting a shopping mall. Go figure.